So, is an unintentionally funny sign a problem? Yes, it can be. All you need to do is Google “funny sign,” and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Mistakes, miscues, and misunderstandings abound. Innuendo, unfamiliarity with a language, and poor placement all can make your sign and your organization the butt of a joke, which is probably not what you intended.
The other day, I saw a tweet of a window sign in a retail shop announcing a … “SLAE.” It was apparently placed long enough without the error being recognized for someone to share a photo on Twitter (with the store’s name). How can this happen, and more importantly, how can this be avoided?
Six Steps to Checking Your Sign
Double check everything
Check and recheck the design, spelling, and punctuation, then have someone else check it. Watch out for homophones, that’s when words have similar sounds but different meanings or spellings. Such as stair – stare, son – sun, or one I once misused in web copy, stationary and stationery.
If the language used on the sign isn’t your first language, have someone fluent in the language check it. Don’t trust online translation services.
Survey the sign’s placement
Are there nearby signs that could alter the meaning by association? What’s in the background and what businesses are next door? For example, I saw a billboard for a Chinese buffet that shared the space with a cat shelter sign. Was their specialty meow mein?
Check word usage
It’s easy to use a word that looks similar. For example, I recently saw a sign at a state park prohibiting “Underwater Smoking.” Did they mean snorkeling? Spellcheck is so funny.
Be careful of ambiguities
My mother owned and rented cabins in southern Indiana. Reader’s Digest shared a copy of a sign posted on her cabin porches. The sign displayed rules for the cabins. Rule number six was, “Do not cook or feed pets on the deck.”
Are the words in the correct order?
(“Please Slow Drively”) While it gets the point across, it doesn’t reflect well on the municipality that posted it. And not only the words can be misplaced, but also letters as well.
Is your message too long, convoluted, or confusing?
Explaining why an entryway isn’t an exit is probably overkill. Most folks only have the time and patience to read a few words on any sign so, choose wisely.
It’s No Joke
If you want to avoid being the laughing stock of your neighborhood because of a poorly conceptualized sign, make certain you have all your I’s crossed and your T’s dotted. Wait—what? And if you’d like a professional to help you avoid an unintentionally funny sign, Contact Us, because an unintentional funny sign is no laughing matter.